Blueshirts Reflect On Playoffs, Look Towards the Future

Where do we go from here, boys?

That was the theme of Blueshirt goodbyes Thursday at their Westchester training base in Greenburgh.

Whether it was superstars such as Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh or Rick Nash, the team knows that there will be a different Rangers sextet than the current one when the 2017-18 season begins.

Who stays and who goes elsewhere will be decided by the high command led by Glen Sather, Jeff Gorton, and Alain Vigneault.

A.V. wasted no time addressing the loss to Ottawa, and how he viewed the see-saw series that appeared to go in different directions at once.

“It was very disappointing,” A.V. admitted. “It’s going to take some time to get over. The Senators made a couple more plays, be it a defensive play or an offensive play, at a timely time.

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“We might believe we deserved a better outcome, but they made the timely plays. That’s why they won the series.”

For each and every Ranger — stashing his hockey paraphernalia in bags to take home — discussion centered on many topics. As for Vigneault, he viewed the positives as well as the negatives and remains optimistic about his outfit.

“There were a lot of good things for a team that re-tooled on the fly and wasn’t given much of a chance in terms of making the playoffs. For the most part, we were one of the top-five teams in the NHL and in the top-five in scoring.”

For Lundqvist, in particular, this is a time for reflection after an uncharacteristically uneven season when his record was 31-20-4. The King’s stats revealed career-lows in save percentage (.910) and goals against average (2.74).

“I haven’t slept much over the last two days,” King Henrik revealed. “Obviously I needed to come up with the extra save when we needed it.

“I believe in this group and what we have in this room. We came up short and it’s important to analyze why. There are definitely some good things here.”

Lundqvist still managed to find a ray of sunshine in the clouds and it all has to do with the World Championships.

“I will join team Sweden. My brother, Joel, is the captain. We haven’t played with each other in 12 years.”

The club’s leader, McDonagh, enjoyed a successful regular season (6-36-42, plus-20) and — until the final two games against Ottawa — succeeded in the playoffs.

“This was an opportunity missed,” McDonagh agreed. “Everyone will say we could have done more or wished we played better. As far as those last three games go, I didn’t play up to where I wanted to play and where this team needed me to play.”

Among the forwards, playoff scoring leaders included Mika Zibanejad (2-7-9, plus-4) and Mats Zuccarello (4-3-7, 0).

It was an especially strange series for Zibanejad, who had to play against his former team in the second round.

“There was extra motivation to beat them,” Zibanajed explained. “It was hard to lose to them, but we will learn from this and move on.”

While his stats may not have been overwhelming, Nash remained a vital part of the New York offense.

“The season ended as a disappointment,” Nash observed. “We had a good opportunity with the position that we were in.

“As for the playoffs, we couldn’t close out the games. We had a good chance to win Game 1 and 2, but we lost it in the last five minutes. It became a trend in Ottawa — we gave up games.”

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Although he averaged only 14:02 of playoff ice time, fleet Michael Grabner shared the playoff goal scoring lead with Zuccarello at four.  

Sure to be back next year are defensemen Brady Skjei and left wing Jimmy Vesey, both impressed in their rookie season.

Skjei tallied 39 points on 5 goals and 34 assists. Vesey finished seventh among Ranger forwards in the Red Light Department with 16.  

Likewise, team-leading scorer Chris Kreider finished a career year and sees better things ahead.

“I made strides,” Kreider said in self-reflection. “I was more consistent over the course of the regular season for sure. I got better as the season went on.”

Inevitably, there will be those who have worn their Rangers jersey for the last time. The key departures last year included Keith Yandle, Derick Brassard, Eric Staal, Dan Boyle, Dominic Moore and Viktor Stalberg.

“We have had a good core group, but when you don’t provide a championship in that amount of years there will be changes,” Nash said. “Me? I love being a Ranger. New York is home to me now.”

But there are plenty of “ifs,” including backup goalie Antti Raanta. Based on his competence, the possibility exists that Antti could be plucked in the expansion draft by Las Vegas.

Late-season defense acquisition Brendan Smith pleasantly surprised management with his two-way play and vigorous approach to the game. Whether or not he remains is a good question.

“This has been arguably the best team that I’ve been on,” Smith enthused. “It was short-lived, but we had the makeup. It was a lot of fun being a Ranger, but from here I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Prior to the playoffs, it had been speculated that Grabner would not be protected. However, his 27 regular season goals — second on the team—and club-leading plus-22 could make Kid Lightning indispensable.

As for the defense, the possibility exists that veterans Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Kevin Klein will be under the Gorton-Vigneault microscope. A few forwards could be as well. It’s all about making changes for the better.

“We’re going to get together in about 10 days,” said A.V. “We’re going to go through everything; from what we have to what we have in Hartford and to what we have coming up.

“We’ll see if there are areas where we can do better. We’re definitely looking at bringing in another young defenseman next year.”

That could mean that one of the stalwart backliners will have to go.

“We’re not happy about how this season finished because we left some wins out there,” said Girardi. “But we can get the job done. We have the right guys in here.”

During media scrums, several players addressed the chances blown in their efforts to beat Ottawa in the second round.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Kreider insisted. “It’s on us and not on them and that makes it that much more difficult to swallow. We had it and let it slip away.

“It’s hard when you don’t grab an opportunity like that. We know how lucky we were to make the playoffs, and then from there we really had to grab the opportunity. We weren’t able to do that.”

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Vigneault examined the play of three specific skaters — Kreider, Skjei and Zibanejad — as follows:

On Kreider: “The Kreider we saw in the third period of Game 6, I’d like to have seen on a regular basis. That’s part of the evolution of a player. Chris is one of the hardest-working human beings. He’s also working on his mental aspect; being engaged and preparing the right way. He’s taking steps every year and it will make him better.”

On Skjei: “Brady had a big role on our team. We consider him one of our offensive defensemen. He’s gone through a good first-year of playing and understanding. Next year he should be better and more effective; ready for a bigger role and bigger minutes.”

On Zibanejad: “Mika is at a crossroads. He needs to find out if he has all the tools and capabilities to be a high-end center in this league. He needs to put it all together.”

Likewise, putting it all together is the Rangers’ goal for next season.

That, and winning The Stanley Cup!